Student's invention could improve workplace safety

Eric Ward

Eric Ward, a master's degree candidate in health sciences, wears his invention. (Photo by Steven Yang)

Industrial and government health and safety inspectors who regularly check work sites for levels of physical, chemical and biological agents could find their own work environments safer through an innovation developed by a graduate student in the School of Health Sciences.

Eric Ward, a master's degree candidate in health sciences from Plymouth, Ind., developed vest prototypes that could help health and safety inspectors carry their testing equipment more easily and improve ease of using it on the job.

Health and safety inspectors are found in all industrial sectors including construction, manufacturing and mining, as well as the government and military. Inspectors check how levels of these physical, chemical and biological agents in the workplace compare to standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.

To collect samples from the workplace, air sampling pumps and noise dosimeters are clipped or secured with duct tape onto a worker's belt during the entire workday. There are drawbacks to this method, Ward says.

"Inconsistent placement of equipment could lead to different results for different workers, and tubing or wires could be caught in machinery if the duct tape or clip that secures them comes loose," Ward says. "The weight of the equipment pulls on the belt, which can be physically uncomfortable."

Ward has self-funded the development of three vest prototypes he made after returning from a 2012 summer internship. Workers can put on the vests by themselves; Velcro straps hold the equipment's wires or tubing in place and counterweights in front ensure the equipment located on the back doesn't pull the vest.

"People in industrial, government and military settings work as hard as they can, and I have been told that traditional industrial hygiene sampling is made even harder because the equipment is heavy and awkward to carry," Ward says. "Since the vest keeps equipment and its wires or tubing in a consistent place, hygienists can better measure the levels of physical, chemical and biological agents in the workplace, which means they can better detect possible problems and effectively control them."

Ward has created large and extra-large prototypes, one of which can hold up to six different sampling devices. Purdue industrial hygiene students tested the vests, and additional tests are being or will be conducted by companies and government agencies in Indiana and Ohio. Ward made a poster presentation about his vests in Montreal at the 2013 American Industrial Hygiene Conference for occupational and environmental health and safety professionals. He also received the Commissioner's Award of Excellence from the Indiana Department of Labor in May.

Purdue's Office of Technology Commercialization has filed two provisional patents for Ward's vest for industrial hygienists.


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